The home of Brazilian reggae

Oh boi
Blinkey, fallen on hard times
On the street
Ready to snuggle
Clouds and the sea
Attack of the masks
Blue at night
Powdering up
Busy stairs
Malcolm X
Public baths
São Luís, MA
São Luís, MA
São Luís, MA
São Luís, MA
São Luís, MA
Casa Frankie, São Luís, MA
São Luís, MA

São Luís is the only Brazilian state capital that was founded by the French, as part of what they called Equinoctial France, ‘equinoctial’ because, on the equator, the nights are roughly as long as the days. They had done so, in violation of the the papal bull of 1493, which had divided the Americas between Spain and Portugal.

Either way, though the French did control what is now Rio de Janeiro, which they saw as part of Antarctic France, for some 12 years, São Luís was only under French control for about three years.

The French took over from a local Indian tribe, and built a fort, Saint-Louis de Maragnan, after King Louis XIII as well as his ancestor Louis IX, and the Portuguese conquered the settlement in 1615, three years later.

The Dutch then took control in 1641, but they left, also after only three years, retreating further down the coast, where they centred Dutch Brazil on Recife.

In 1684, at the end of the ‘Beckman revolt’, an uprising against slavery and bad treatment by the Portuguese, the Beckman brothers where hanged, drawn and quartered, before which one of the brothers declared “Pelo Povo do Maranhão morro contente”, or “By the hands of the people from Maranhão, I die happy”. The slogan, today, decorates the main hall of State Council Building, which I find a tad odd, considering it was the Portuguese, the predecessors of the very councillors operating from said building, that did the quartering. 

Perhaps the irony is lost on them. Or perhaps the irony is on purpose?

São Luís went through an economic boom during the American civil war, when it started supplying the UK with cotton, for a while becoming the third most populous city in the country. But, from the end of the 19th century, the city entered a long slide into decay, which as yet, at least for the colonial old town, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, is only slowly turning around, though it is turning around.

Walking through the old town, the buildings seem in a dire state of disrepair, the streets quiet, after dark almost post-apocalyptic, with many of the once-grand buildings either empty, or being occupied by small workshops, copy-shops, a little bar here and there, and perhaps a stationary store or two. 

The old town seems to give off a sense of poverty. The kind, and in a setting that reminds of places like Zanzibar, Channai, or Maputo; a once-rich colonial, or in this case post-colonial, past, where the economic tide has turned and the people occupy the decrepit shells of their former success with shadows of economic activity.

But, things are not quite what they seem. Accommodation prices are surprisingly high. The place I stay at, in the old town, looks a bit shabby on the outside, but inside is gorgeous, resembling, in a way, a North African or Central Asian caravanserai. The owner tells me there are more and more places like his in the old town. And, with the extensive work the municipality is doing on urban regeneration, it’s a safe bet that, in a few years, São Luís will be a solid alternative to Salvador.

The current governor, a socialist, broke 60 years of oligarchic rule, bringing development to the people. And, it is starting to show; From the old market outwards, the city is undergoing lots of renovations, making the town feel like an undiscovered gem.

And how can you not love the bountiful amount of felines. With little heaps of cat food on many street corners. These are my kind of people.

Then again, in the evening, a next door neighbour blasts MPB from what sounds like a tinny cellphone, but the heavy beats make the furniture perceptibly move. On a Tuesday.
And there’s a rather continuous faint smell of pee, hanging in the air.

Yet, money is flowing through the city. The next-door Port of Ponta da Madeira, is the second deepest in the world, after only Rotterdam, and is one of the busiest in the country. A railway transports iron ore from within the Amazon to the coast.

Across the bay, there’s a space center, but this seems to be more a matter of wishful thinking, with only a handful of launches in the last five years.

A fascinating cultural tidbit is that São Luís is the center of Brazilian reggae. The city has the only Reggae museum outside of Jamaica, but it’s closed, even though several of the city’s cultural offerings have been revamped in preparation for the city’s birthday, the showpiece being a set of disco balls (yes, really) in the center of town, which, at night, give the city a truly magical (yes, really) feel.

Odd is the noticeable prevalence of Vietnamese conical hats. The sun, São Luís is close to the equator, can be brutal, but the conical hats I’ve not seen elsewhere in the country.

Denmark Photomarathon 2021

Back in 2005, I participated in the Rotterdam photomarathon. In 2007, I brought photomarathons to Africa, and put together photomarathons in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The general consensus is that Madrid hosted the first photomarathon, back in 1985 (here’s a poster of the second photomarathon in 1986), but Denmark soon followed, in 1989, hosting a photomarathon every year, since.

Last year, I participated, remotely, in the Denmark photomarathon, doing it remotely being a forced requirement because of COVID, though it also meant everyone, anywhere, could participate. But, though I was never notified of this, my submissions were probably disqualified, as, this year, I somewhat accidentally stumbled on the entry requirements, which stipulate limitations I had not considered.

The team behind the Denmark photomarathon could improve their communication plan somewhat, for example by notifying registrants by email, including explaining, oh, say, the rules, but, either way, the essential requirement is that all manipulation of submitted images can only happen ‘pre-click’. That is, anything you want to manipulate, you have to manipulate before recording your image.
So, no post-processing.

This is a nice requirement, as it somewhat captures the idea of shooting analogue, with what you capture with the camera being your actual submission.
On the other hand, since the days of analogue, image manipulation has so become a part of how we consume media, now pretty much exclusively digital, that this is a throwback to different times, and perhaps even anachronistic.

Last year, I post-processed all my submissions, and cropped them to square. This year, I made no adjustments ‘post-click’, and also avoided cropping, all photos being required to be rectangular (which is a tad odd, because even when shooting analog, depending on your camera, you might be shooting in a square format).

What was great about the event, participating in the 24 hour photomarathon, was that, although photomarathons have been held regularly over the last few decades, almost none, if any, host 24 hour events, most max out at 12, with some, like the Canon-sponsored ones in East Asia, at some point only required participants to shoot… three photos.

I shot mine in a time frame of about 15 hours. I woke up at 6:30, with the event having started at 5am (10am in Denmark), and shot my last photo at around 9. Possible, because the final 12 themes were all communicated in one batch.

And, I purposely had scheduled my being in Praia da Pipa, a popular beach resort, some 80km from Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, in Brazil.

A small win

My photo for ‘Endurance’ was picked as the ‘topic winner’.

The largest cashew tree in the world

The eye
The eye in the sky
Half a face
Always up
A door awaits
The largest cashew tree in the world
Clouds in the distance
Glitches clouds
Fortaleza dos Reis Magos
Ponta Negra, Natal, RN
Parque da Cidade Dom Nivaldo Monte, Natal, RN

An important crop in the north of Brazil is cashew.
And, perhaps not so surprising that these things are being tracked, but the largest cashew tree in the world is a known entity, and it’s just a few kilometres from the center of Natal.

This sprawling tree has a circumference of some 500 metres and occupies an area of 7,300 square meters, making it 70 times the size of an average cashew trees. The reason for its sprawl is a genetic mutation; the branches of this tree grow outwards rather than upwards.

Between Ponta Negra, the tourist hotspot of Natal, and the largest cashew tree on the world, there’s a military base that’s occasionally used for rocket launches. Close to the equator, it’s a good spot for jettisoning something into geostationary orbit. But, the entrance area is sedate, the reception building shut down. A few small rockets, and some military equipment, are littered around the parking lot, as a show of intent, perhaps.

The last 20 minutes of the 15km bike ride, on a continuously more and more wobbly bike I had rented from a nearby hostel, I had seen the clouds and drizzle make way for equatorial sunshine. Arriving at the tree, I first enjoyed a fresh coconut, then what is perhaps my favourite juice, cashew (the fruit, or, technically, the pseudo fruit) with milk… made from a packet of processed pulp, with the largest cashew tree in the world within view.
If trees could cry, this one probably would do so regularly.

As unique as the tree is, as limited appears it appeal; the site closes for lunch, early. I arrived five minutes before noon, but the lady at the ticket office had already bolted for her break. 

What I find the funniest of this: the cashew tree is circumscribed by a fence. But, on two sides, including the side you approach the tree on, when coming from Natal, the tree has grown onto the road, taking up literally half of the road itself, along its full perimeter.

In true Brazilian laissez faire style, no one seems to mind; if this is what the tree wants, it should be allowed to do its thing.

On a third side, the municipality built a large overhang, to prevent the tree from spilling onto this road, too. However, in various parts, the tree is now crawling over the overhang, starting to reach down for the road below.

There’s more nature to be had in the city.
After my return from Pipa, I was staying in the very touristy part of the city, but managed to stay away from the crowded beaches.

But, there’s more; Natal has two prominent city parks. The first is on the shore, and preserves the city‘s characteristic dunes. 

The second is a bit inland, and combines the dunes with ‘Atlantic forest’.

This one also contains a significant piece by architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Built in 2008, the year of his 100th birthday, it’s a 45m tall viewpoint, resembling a large single eye on a pillar. 

After the viewpoint was made accessible to the public for several months, it closed in 2009, supposedly due to financial problems, not to open again.

There seems to be a bit of trope, that Niemeyer’s work suffers from a history of not being used to its full potential. For one, Niemeyer‘a ‘Estação Ciência’ in João Pessoa also was not accessible on a recent visit, and when you take a close look at many of his buildings in Brasilia, often they seem in need of some tender lovin’.

But, much of Niemeyer’s work is awfully photogenic.

I entered the park and started taking pictures, and was quickly approached by security; was I taking pictures for myself, or in a commercial context?

Then, minutes later, as I stepped off the trail to get a particularly good angle, I was approached again; I could not stray from the path, supposedly for the many cobras hiding in the vegetation.

Over a barrel for a photomarathon

On the shore
Between two poles
Playing ball
Two of some kind
City life
In bounds
Dare to
Two identical
Praia da Pipa, RN
Praia da Pipa, RN

Pipa, literally ‘kite’, but when the beach was named, the word referred to ‘barrel’, referencing a barrel-shaped rock the Portuguese meant to see on the coast, was a sleepy beach-town until it was discovered by that kind of international travel community which, when it descends on something it likes, turns everything into the uniform, if pleasant, bespoke tourist experience. Whether in Thailand, Turkey, or Brazil.

The beaches are indeed lovely, the water is gorgeous, and, of course, the hotels are boutique, the food nice, the staff multilingual, the imported beer cold.
There’s a Subway, Pipa is lovely, and you have probably been there.

Perhaps the strangest was that, while my visit was still during the pandemic, even though it was a weekend, the shops and restaurants felt at normal capacity. Granted, the vast majority of people were still wearing masks, outside, though not inside, as these were mostly bars and restaurants.

Too busy and too touristy for me, I made sure I had ‘dinner’ by ordering a X-tudo off a street-vendor, adding a beer or two, and heading to the surprisingly quiet, at night, beach.

A X-tudo is pronounced [sheesh-toodo]. ‘Tudo’ means ‘everything’, the sheesh, supposedly, is a bastardisation of ‘cheese’, as Brazilians struggle with the opening sound of the word ‘cheese’.
A X-tudo varies from place to place, but it does tend to have ‘everything’; beef, ham, cheese, bacon, egg, lettuce, and a host of toppings, which can be mushroom, little sticks of potato, more egg, corn, peas, topped off with a range of sauces.

I had come to Pipa to participate in the Denmark Photomarathon.

With the pandemic, the 2020 Denmark photomarathon had moved onto the virtual plane, which had seen the competition receive a healthy number of participants, including myself. This year, still suffering from the pandemic, the competition again was virtual, allowing anyone, anywhere, to participate.

Last year, I ‘did’ the 12 hour marathon. This year, I had opted for the 24 hour event. A tough call, with the last time I participated in a 24 hour photomarathon having been 2005, in Rotterdam.
But, due to the time difference with Copenhagen, 5 hours, and the announced release schedule of individual topics, I had anticipated that I could start late and finish early, resulting in a long day, but without having to skip a night’s sleep on either end.
I was right, and even ended up winning a small prize.

The end of the line

Without cattie
With cattie
Ceará-Mirim, RN

Very few intercity trains are still running in Brazil. I had planned to take one of the very few later on my trip, but, from Natal, it’s also possible to take a suburban train to a nearby commuter town that has a tiny bit of colonial past.

A short train ride away, Ceará-Mirim is a little town which rose to minor prominence as a source of cattle and the state’s famed sun fried meat.

The area was first occupied by the Potiguara Indians, who traded Brazil wood with the Dutch and Portuguese.

In São Paulo, when taking an urban train, street hawkers walk back and forth, loudly proclaiming what it is they sell. More recently, there’s been a bit of a crackdown on their activity, but when there is no security around, these sellers are loud, somewhat annoying, and ever-present.

The train to Ceará-Mirim also had a hawker, one, who just patiently hung around, with some water bottles and crisps, for travellers to approach her.

In Ceará-Mirim itself, which I found quite the disappointment, there was an almost continuous stream of cars carrying large speakers, promoting one or the other particular shop in town.

I did spot a disproportionate number of cats.

A quiet visit to Natal

Take me to the bridge
Breakfast time
Natal airport
On the coast
Risk of drowning
Pick up your dog's poop!
Fight for socialism
Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte
On stilts
Catedral Metropolitana de Natal, Natal, RN
Natal, RN

Though Salvador is a more prominent destination, both nationally and internationally, and also a bigger jumping off point for Africa, Natal, with about 1 million people, is Brazil’s closest city, on the mainland, to both Europe and Africa. The distance from Natal to Chui, in the far south of the country is further than it is to Freetown in Sierra Leone, as is the town of Cruzeiro do Sul, in the far west of Brazil.

Natal’s proximity to Europe and Africa saw the Americans set up a base in town, during the Second World War, which also lead to Brazil being the only Latin American country to send troops overseas during the war.

Earlier, Natal had not benefitted from the sugarcane boom, unlike other major cities in Brazil’s northeast. This, due to the sandy soil being unsuitable for sugarcane cultivation. Instead, the city saw slow economic growth through the raising of cattle, which prefaced the introduction of the typical food of the region, carne de sol, sun dried meat, similar to beef jerky in the US, or biltong in South Africa.

More recently, salt and oil exploration have added to Natal‘s economic benefits. And tourism. Well known for its dunes, you can hop on a camel trek, on imported camels.

The area around Natal was first visited in 1501, but wasn’t settled by Europeans for another few decades. And it was first the French who frequented the area, trading with the Potiguar Indians.

At the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese kicked out the French, and on January 6, 1598, they started building the fort of the three wise men, for the day construction had started.

Natal was founded the next year, on December 25, commemorating the birth of Jesus. Hence, the etymological connection with Kwazulu-Natal, in South Africa, is only through Christianity.

Between 1633 and 1654, the Dutch occupied the area, and briefly renamed the fort, but unlike in Recife, there are no obvious public indicators of the former Dutch presence, except for the recurring ads for Uninassau, a private university borrowing a perception of quality from Dutch royalty.

And, though in Recife there is a kind of odd fondness for its Dutch past, in Natal, the municipal building (prefeitura) is called the Palácio Filipe Camarão, taking its name from a local minor celebrity who fought the Dutch during their incursion in the area.

Camarão, born among the Potiguara Indians, converted to Christianity at around 12, married the next day, and converted his tribal name, Poti, to the Portuguese equivalent, shrimp.

From 1630, until his death in 1648, he fought the Dutch, becoming a well established military commander, eventually leading the right flank in the United Portuguese Army, becoming a Knight Commander of Portugal’s most prestigious military order.

Till the end of his life, he fought against the Dutch forces, which, curiously, until shortly before, had been under a man called Krzysztof Arciszewski, a Pole who had been exiled from his native country, then had first settled in The Hague and after that, had become a vice-governor of Dutch Brazil, and head chief of the Dutch military forces.

Camarão died in the nearby state of Pernambuco, as a consequence of wounds sustained in the Battle of Guararapes, and is buried in Recife.
As an aside, the battle of Guararapes, prefacing the departure of the Dutch from Brazil, is considered, particularly by the army, the birth of the nation of Brazil.

In 2012, Camarão was added to the ‘book of heroes of the fatherland’, which resides at the Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom, which is the abstract dove-shaped building at the Three Powers Plaza in Brasilia, next to the National Congress (as well as next to the Supreme Court and the presidential palace).

Now, Natal is known for being more sedate than many other major Brazilian cities. And that’s justified; the city is quiet, the old town, with remnants of late 18th century architecture, is dilapidated, languishing, and in disrepair. Museums are closed, not just due to COVID, public spaces are either shuttered or left to slide into obscurity. Though there still is an occasional suburban train running from the center to two outlying towns, out-of-use tram tracks are easy to find.

Outside of its tourism industry, focussed on its sunny coast, the town gives the impression of having fallen into a long, slow, economic decline, without resources, and perhaps interest, to maintain its cultural heritage.

It’s easy to see parallels with Recife, though they are economically more successful, and with Manaus, with a similarly languishing old town, and for its dilapidated dated architecture, and even with Maputo, with its coastal focus on fishing.

But, the sad state of disrepair of its recent past seems more a choice to shift the city’s focus, as there is plenty of activity that’s directed towards the sea.

One evening, when I got back to my hotel, on the shore, in the north of the city, I came across a troupe of bikers, without leather jackets, and with only a few tattoos, in itself an oddity in Brazil. It was in the early evening, but they were ready to go on parade.

I walked over, sat at a snack bar and ordered a pastel, and then enjoyed the scenery. The crowd soon dispersed, leaving for their collective ride, and I was left with my ‘pastel Nordestino’, a deep-fried envelope of phyllo dough, stuffed with a range of goodies, accompanied by home-made pepper sauce.
It was now very quiet, with the only sound the lapping of the waves on the beach, and the rocks.

How pleasant the sea is.

Second class citizen

Back in early 2017, I was invited to a project in Oakland, California. Then, Trump put the ‘Muslim banI’ in place and I, having been born in Iran, was barred from traveling to the US.

Eventually, the ban was rescinded, but, with the changed climate, and the decision to issue visas, or not, being left with individual consulate offices, effective restrictions remained much tighter than they were before Trump.

About two years ago, Natalia had applied for, and received, a grant with the Nieman foundation, to study at Harvard.

Every year, Nieman pays for about two dozen journalists to pursue particular research, relevant to each journalist’s own field, by providing a well funded one year grant.

What’s more, the spouse, if any, gets to join as well, and also gets to study at Harvard, if they so desire.
In fairness, both only get to audit classes, meaning they can’t actually get any grades, but a large part of the benefit is networking, the interaction, things that happen off-canvas, so I don’t believe this is an issue.

A huge opportunity, we were a bit anxious to go under Trump, although we were also looking forward to be able to be in the US during the 2020 elections. However, with COVID shutting everything down, including consulates and Harvard itself, and being offered the possibility of studying remotely, we figured we’d strongly prefer to postpone for a year.

At the start of this year, we began putting out feelers, with Nieman, as to what would be needed to pursue obtaining our visas. We were told to wait, but, by the time we were told to move forward, the US consulate’s limited capacity meant that the earliest visa appointment we could get was for December 2021, a full four months after we were supposed to start the semester, in August.

But then, with the COVID vaccines rolling out reasonably successfully, and restrictions slowly being eased, we managed to move our appointment forward, to late July.

We collected the necessary paperwork, paid 160 USD each to start the online application, went to have our photos and fingerprints taken, to then, finally, get ourselves to the American consulate to request, and hopefully receive, our visas.

(Incidentally, during the online application, we had to agree to that, “if required to undergo a medical examination, your medical examination information may be collected and temporarily stored in the eMedical system hosted, operated, and maintained by the Australian Department of Home Affairs”.)

At the consulate, visitors are not allowed to bring in any electronic devices, whether computer or smart watch, meaning that a small cottage industry of little businesses providing locker space just outside the consulate entrance has sprung up, with their representatives jumping almost on top of you as soon as you get out of your Uber.

Finally inside, the consular officer asked Natalia one question, and myself perhaps a dozen, all related to my connection with Iran. To then have some backtalk and, upon her return, issue the visa to Natalia, and deny it to me.

At the moment, it’s not a definite ‘no’, as I was sent a list of questions, by email, that I needed to answer, before a final decision is to be made. I asked how long this process would be expected to take, and, after some hemming and hawing, the consular officer’s choice of words made it clear that the process could take so long that, by the time it would complete, Natalia’s year in the US could already be over.

The questions themselves are fairly ridiculous. See for yourself:

  • Current employer and current position (including address, telephone number, name of supervisor) include list of companies currently performing freelance/contract work for;
  • List of past employers/employment, including job description, address, telephone number, and supervisor’s name;
  • The street address(es), website address(es), phone numbers of, and points of contact at, the organizations, institutes, and/or companies the applicant intends to visit in the United States (applicants going to academic institutions or conferences should give the name of an academic contact, not the name of the foreign student advisor);
  • The specifics of the applicant’s advanced (postgraduate, doctoral, post-doctoral, or scholarly) academic, business, research, or study interests in the United States, including any classes applicant intends to audit while in the United States;
  • Travel history over the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Addresses during the last 15 years, if different from the applicant’s current address;
  • The names and dates of birth of any siblings; children; current and former spouses/civil or domestic partners;
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years;
  • Prior passport numbers and country of issuance;
  • Public-facing social media platforms and identifiers/handles used during the last five years.  This includes any websites or applications the applicant has used to create or share content (photos, videos, status updates, etc.) as part of a public profile.
  • Please also include a complete résumé and list of publications.

Obviously, I don’t keep track of the contact details of people I worked for 30 years ago. Nor do I know the passport numbers of all passports I ever held. Nor do I even know the addresses of some of the places I lived at, with some not even having formal addresses.

And then, my list of visited countries over the last 15 years is about 150, many of course having been visited multiple times.

All this, of course, for the United States to put the burden and responsibility for obtaining a visa on me; by not fully answering all questions they put to me, they can now come back and say, for example, “you did not provide the name of your supervisor when you were a paperboy, 35 years ago, so we can not issue you a visa”.

Due to my work history, I regularly have been in contact with American consular officers, frequenting the same pubs, social gatherings and whatnot, in several countries in the global south, meaning I often heard about the challenges of these officers in determining whether those applying for a visa had the means to financially survive and the intention to return.

For our application, we also were required to bring the photo album of our wedding, proof of sufficient funds and proof of having ties with the country we were temporarily leaving. But, none of these were asked for.
Clearly, my problem is having been born in Iran.

For my mixed heritage, even though my Iranian connection is tenuous, this episode shows that, whatever one might consider oneself to be, it’s outside forces, greater than yourself, that control what you are, and how you are classified and treated.

In the eyes of the US state, I’m a second tier Dutch citizen.

But, not only in the eyes of the US government. In the Netherlands, the most vocal and perhaps most internationally recognised Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, has advocated (in Dutch) that it should be possible for Dutch citizens with dual nationality, to be sent ‘back’, if they commit a serious enough crime. Though the implications of what he has said could be construed as much broader (in Dutch), perhaps applying to all citizens with at least one parent who was born abroad.
Not only is it practically impossible to denounce your citizenship of some countries, also would my children, even if born in the Netherlands, still match Wilders’ target group.

And Wilders goes further, also wanting to prevent those with dual nationalities to vote (in Dutch).

The blatant racism that speaks from this is incredible, and it’s disheartening that this politician gets such broad support (11% in this year’s parliamentary elections), but perhaps more, the plain absurdity of desired policies like this is kafkaesque.

Thankfully, I have some, if little, personal control in preventing Geert Wilders from enacting his plans (though I should probably literally have kicked his shins when I had the chance), but, in relation to the US, the long-running biggest source of international terrorism, treating me as a spy, or terrorist, I am completely powerless in enacting any change, were I can only accept the absurdity and racism as fact.

All of this, of course, should make me strongly consider not to jump through the hoops the American empire puts in front of my face. Yet, the opportunity to study at Harvard for a year is significant.

In the end, these people at the consulate are just following handed-down protocols. With the spectre of Iran as the greatest evil on earth, fuelled by international lobby groups, in turn as a tool to propagate their own survival, with the need to mark an external scapegoat for internal shortcomings, most of us, you and me, are just pawns in a game that we have little control over.

So, we’ll see. I answered the questions they put to me, to the extent I was reasonably able to. I don’t really expect it to be enough, but if it is, I might be able to spend a few months, expenses generously compensated, in the land of the free.

Or, a border agent might deny me entry.

Police intervention

In a surprising perhaps-not-so-coincidence, my fellow director of walk · listen · create, a few weeks later, in Belgium, received a visit from the police, and had to undergo a phone interview with the Ministry of Interior Affairs, supposedly as part of their ‘anti-terrorist’ measures.

The biggest pussy

In context
Giving head
Up there
The looking glass
Enter, here
A true diva
The road to freedom
Deliverance is up in the air
Going deep
Over the horizon
Rounded response
Hillside opening
Jardim Botanico da Usina de Arte
Usina de Arte
The capture
Landscape photography
The frog
The eye of the beholder

Some, when they have money, they do funny things.

A few years ago, we visited Inhotim, close to Belo Horizonte, a sprawling park, stuffed with large pieces of installation art. Founded by the mining magnate Bernardo Paz, it’s one of the largest outdoor art centres in Latin America. The park costs much more to run, than it brings in in ticket sales, but, as trading art, particularly at high prices, is sometimes a way to avoid taxation and launder money, perhaps there is much more to the park than meets the eye.
Either way, in 2018, Paz was sentenced to more than nine years in jail for money laundering.

Much more humble, but designed along similar lines to Inhotim (though not necessarily with money laundering in mind), is Usina de Arte, in Pernambuco (a state in the north of Brazil), on the border with Alagoas. An Usina is a term used in Brazil to describe a large production facility, often specifically for the production of sugar from sugar cane. And, indeed, the Usina de Arte until the end of the 20th century produced sugar and cachaça (rum), the dilapidated distillery being part of the logo of, what is now, the art garden.

The usina only has a few dozen pieces in the garden, and are all easily experienced in just a few hours, and are, mostly, nice, but not particularly exceptional. Entrance to the park is free, and only occasionally a guard on a quad patrols the quiet lanes of the park.

The big attraction is the more-or-less annual festival, though, due to COVID, no festival occurred in 2020, while there is also no information I could find on the festival happening in 2019, and, at the venue itself, leftovers of the 2018 festival were still visible.
Because the park is rather off the beaten path, and small, it’s difficult to get usable historical information on its activities. But, part of the reason the 2019 festival seems to not have happened is that the founder of the Usina de Arte, Ricardo Pessoa de Queiroz, who also has two pieces of art in the garden, one pretty bad, one quite good, passed away at 90, at the start of 2020.
Fascinatingly, in 2015 he published what one obituary called his masterpiece, The Practical Manual for Sugarcane, on, well, growing sugarcane. 2015 was also the year he founded the usina as an art garden.

For the sleepy town of Santa Terezinha, essentially centred on the entrance of the usina, the attraction, if only occasionally popular, is a small boon.

That is, perhaps, until the arrival of the park’s latest addition, a deep-red 33 meter tall vagina, “Diva”, sunk into a hillside in the park, visible from literally miles around.

The piece, when the general public was made aware of its existence at the end of 2020, stirred up some controversy, though perhaps more of the teacup kind, though the fact that it reached the likes of CNN and The Sun, does say something about its impact. At least internationally.

Created by local (that is, from Recife) artist Juliana Notari, she stated the piece “questions the relationship between nature and culture in our phallocentric and anthropocentric western society” and discusses the “problematisation of gender”. Undeniably true on both counts, though perhaps also rather obvious.
The piece, attracting attention, inspired a horrible song, Vulva Diva, with a hilarious video clip, with Notari accepting her fame, or notoriety, with open arms, as per her Instagram profile.

The piece, back in the usina, is de garden’s piece de résistance, with the park’s pathways leading the visitor to the best view of the vagina as its culmination, and worth the trip to the edge of the state of Pernambuco.
We were not the only ones thinking this; during our short two-night stay, some 7 or 8 other parties stayed at the same guest house as us, previously a sleepy affair, specifically coming in to visit the vagina.

It’s a hit.

Life’s a (nude) beach

Praia de Tambaba
Blue and green
Shades of blue
Inside fort Orange
Fort Orange
Walk away
Memories of Holland; Forte Orange on the island of Itamaracá in Brazil
The view from our room in Itamaracá
This puffer has puffed his last puff

After taking it easy for a few days in João Pessoa, we rented a car to drive south. Specifically, to visit a controversial new art installation in the south of Pernambuco.

On the way to our first stop, the island of Itamaracá, in Pernambuco, we stopped at Tambaba beach, famous as it’s one of the very few nude beaches in Brazil. Interesting, as although Brazilians like to show off on the beach, wearing as little cloth as possible, they also balk at not wearing any at all. So, although the regular, rather small, beach at Tambaba was terribly crowded, the part of the beach that was nudist, accessible by a stairs and a screen, hiding nudists from view, was pleasantly quiet, almost deserted.

There is, interestingly, a nudist guest house on this stretch of sand and, while we were enjoying the sun and the sights, as well as freshly fried fresh fish, a group of, what could only be classified as swingers, arrived with supplies and excellent moods.

Afterwards, we drove on, to the island of Itamaracá (“The stone that sings”). Also once occupied by the Dutch, a fort, Fort Orange, still stands to remind visitors of the past. But, most tourists come to the island as day-trippers, enjoying the weather, the beach, the food, the laid back life, as very little of historical value remains, while the beaches are lovely.
An older church next to our guest house had a clock on its facade, painted, always stuck at 9 o’clock.

For Orange once was used as a jail, where the Dutch imprisoned Portuguese who didn’t want to convert to protestantism. Which is a bit odd, as the Dutch occupation of northern Brazil was known for its religious tolerance, exemplified by the extensive influx of jews, from Amsterdam, who settled mostly in Recife, and established the oldest synagogue in the Americas.

Travel in the time of COVID

Eu amo Jampa
Espaço Cultural Jose Lins do Rego
Igreja Sao Francisco
Blue, green, yellow. It's a flag!
Hungarian chimney cake
Deep blues
Beach life
Dystopian Joao Pessoa
Remnants of the past
The easternmost point of the Americas
Welcome to Joao Pessoa

International travel is still heavily curtailed. Even though the COVID-19 vaccine has now started to roll out, parts of the country are still heavily affected. Manaus is having the biggest challenges, with Venezuela even sending over canisters of oxygen, clearly as a PR-stunt, but also a necessary relief, while some parts of the Brazilian northeast are also having their containment issues.

Not so João Pessoa, the capital of the state of Paraiba.

While there, we didn’t encounter many COVID-related restrictions, save for the fact that essentially everyone, everywhere, at all times, was wearing a face mask. Perhaps the underlying mentality has paid off, as nearby Recife is struggling much more.
That said, most, but not all, shared public spaces, like museums, were still closed.

João Pessoa is an hour or two north from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, which once was the capital of Dutch Brazil, or New Holland. Joao Pessoa also has a brief Dutch history, the Dutch invading and taking the city in 1634, which at that time was called Philipeia of Our Lady of the Snows, with particularly the snowy part still on show, today, in many names of business around town. The Dutch renamed the town Fredrikstad, after Frederik Hendrik of Orange, son of William of Orange (William the Silent), the one who managed to get the Spanish to end their occupation of the northern Netherlands.
Frederik, incidentally, was born in Delft, the same town his father was murdered in. Curiously, as an aside, William’s murderer, the French catholic Balthasar Gerards, had a street named after him, in the town he was born in, Vuillafans, on the border with Switzerland, exactly because he murdered William. This, in turn, even more incidentally, was the first murder of a head-of-state with a firearm, and only the second assassination by a firearm ever recorded.

Back to Paraiba and João Pessoa.

In contrast with Recife, there is very little that remains in João Pessoa that has a Dutch connection, possibly because Dutch occupation lasted a mere 20 years, and João Pessoa played a second, and remote, fiddle to Recife. But, the expulsion of the Dutch by the Portuguese, some twenty years later, did trigger the expansion of the sugarcane industry to the Caribbean, as well as the early industrialisation of some parts of coastal North America.
One older church, in downtown Joao Pessoa, has a spire that somewhat reminds of Dutch church architecture of the time, but, as far as we could uncover, that appeared to be the extent of the connection. And even that was a stretch.

The city has undergone several name changes, with the most recent one dating back to 1930. João Pessoa was a vicepresidential candidate under Getulio Vargas, and murdered in Recife, by a slighted political opponent, of whom the police had released love letters after a raid on an opponent’s office.

João Pessoa is the least unequal city in the northeast of Brazil. The coastal zone, a long strip of beach, and where we stayed, felt decidedly pleasant, without the excesses more typical of, say, Rio de Janeiro. And even the downtown area, some 6k away from the beach, on top of a hill and, on the other side from the shore, bordered by a river, was a bit rough, but not comparable to most other larger Brazilian cities. Downtown João Pessoa has clearly not yet seen the regeneration that downtown Recife has received, but is doing much, much better compared to, say, Manaus.

The city’s main attraction, besides its beaches, and surprisingly excellent and unique food, is that the city is home to the easternmost point of the Americas (if you don’t include Greenland as part of the Americas). The spot that is marked as such was recently highlighted with one of Oscar Niemeyer’s final constructions.
However, oddly, the spot that is marked as the most eastern point isn’t actually the most eastern point of the Americas. A point, about 1km south from the marked spot, is significantly further east. But, the rest of the cape, further east than the marked point, appears all privately owned, which presumably made it more difficult to turn the spot into a bit of a tourist attraction.

The city’s geography does hit home, once more, the size of the country; In João Pessoa, we’re closer to Cape Verde, than we are to both Manaus, deep in the Brazilian Amazon, and Porto Alegre, in Brazil’s south, while both are still quite a bit away from the Brazilian border themselves. In fact, parts of Brazil close to the Peruvian border are further away from João Pessoa than parts of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, or Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Renaming cities seems a bit of a national pastime in Brazil. The nearby town of Bayeux is home to the city’s airport. From 1635 onwards, this town used to be called Barreiros, but was renamed in 1944, in honour of the first French town to be liberated in the battle of Normandy, that is, D-Day, on June 7 of that year.
I was hoping for some connection to the tapestry of the city, but, although Bayeux has been settled for 100s of years, there appeared little of history that remains.

Also, in true Brazilian style, emphasised by the country’s current president, playing fast-and-loose with facts is also not too uncommon. The city is known as the second greenest city in the world, after Paris. But, this was a stunt, initiated by the city’s mayor, in the context of an Earth Summit (Eco-92), which was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

In fact, it appears that Joao Pessoa is not even the greenest city in Brazil, with Curitiba often being referred to as the greenest city on earth.

We thoroughly enjoyed João Pessoa. People are friendly and laid back, while the city prospers reasonably well. The coastal strip and its beaches are gorgeous, the food is great, while prices are reasonable.

Food wise, we found many experimental restaurants, as well as a unique local style, often cooking with cream. One interesting import were Hungarian chimney cakes, the delightfully called Kürtöskalács, stuffed with sweets, including ice cream.

The cheese capital of Brazil: Alagoa

Cafe com texto
Cheese is served
This could be heaven for everyone
Streamed up
Hidden gem
The cheese capital of Brazil; Alagoa

Legend has it that an Italian gentleman visited the valley, bringing a cheese culture with him, here, in the interior of Brazil. He then shared the fungus with someone from the valley, who then shared it with his neighbours, who then shared it again… and again… until pretty much everyone in the valley, in which you find the small town of Alagoa, was making cheese.

We asked around; how many families were making cheese in and around the town? The lowest estimate we got was 30. The highest, 150. At a population of under 3000, and, with a surprisingly low average Brazilian household size of 3, this means that up to 15% of families in Alagoa could be making cheese.
It seemed a good estimate.

The town is gorgeously situated, essentially at the end of a road, almost but not quite a dead end, in a valley surrounded by tall evergreen peaks. Founded in the 18th century, the town was on the trail, the ‘Royal Road’, between the mines in the state of Minas Gerais, and the ports of Rio de Janeiro, Paraty, and Sao Paulo. But, though it’s technically possible to traverse the valley, no paved road runs through it.
When we entered the area, we had to navigate a fresh landslide, which, only just, had been partially cleared, allowing small traffic in and out. That, combined with the lack of tourism, mostly due to COVID, made it feel like we were driving into a kind of Stephen King novel, where anyone can enter the little thriving town, but no one can ever leave.

In Alagoa itself (surprisingly bereft of a lake, as ‘a lagoa’ literally means ‘the lake’), we tried cheese from 9 different producers, only four of which were officially recognised cheese manufacturers. One of those, Entre Morros, ‘between mountains’, had dared to make an old Parmezan, as a one-off. Not much to Brazilian tastes, which prefers younger cheeses, it was not an easy sell, and after making one smelly old wheel of 7 kilos, months back, they had yet to make another one.
It was superb. We bought their last kilo.

It was exactly this cheese which, at a visit to a little cheese shop, during the most recent carnival, all of us still oblivious of our COVID future, in the little town of Santana de Parnaiba, close to Sao Paulo, had made us decide to seek out this Brazilian cheese capital.

Back in May, we had wanted to visit, but the town’s website said it was closed to visitors, due to COVID. We checked a few times in the following months, with no luck. Then, when we gave them a call in early December, we were told they had, in fact, never been closed.
But, when we finally arrived, we found that all shops were still required to shut down at 6pm, some closing even earlier, others not opening at all. Except for the town’s only bakery, which was allowed to stay open till 9pm, but often kept its doors open for longer, broadcasting the laughs and shouts of those having their socially distanced beers, to the windows of our hotel across the road.
At the town’s only pousada, this seemed reasonably ideal. Except that, as perhaps the only bakery in Brazil, they did not serve a meaningful breakfast, which we needed, as the pousada had stopped serving breakfasts due to COVID. And for lunch and dinner, the bakery only offered the ever-present Brazilian burger, in all its 20, or so, varieties, and as many pizzas. With local cheese, but crappy dough.

The inhabitants of Alagoa take their cheese seriously.

We went for a drive, in search of a particular restaurant, pretty much ‘up in the mountains’, only to find it closed. But, a nearby pousada (kind of like a farm-stay), was open. The Pousada Casarão, meaning something like ‘Big house hotel’, possibly harked back to slave-owning days, with this farm being the central farm of a large estate.
We didn’t find a really big house, but we did find a family running a series of quite lovely chalets with beautiful views, all constructed by the patriarch of the house, João. Who, of course, also made cheese.
Asked to see his cheese, the pride in João’s work was palpable. It took some convincing to allow us to try one of his large cured cheeses, which he proceeded to carry down to the farm’s kitchen, clutching the cheese to his chest as his precious. But, in the kitchen, he couldn’t bring himself to cut open the cheese; it needed to be sold as a whole, João telling us while looking at the cheese with loving eyes. Instead, we got to try another, already cut, similar cheese , from which we bought a kilo, as well as a well-aged Parmezan, which actually was a bit too dry.

Later, on another drive, we stumbled upon a little chalet where an older couple, Barbara and Daniel, Daniel being Uruguayan, also sold cheese, of course, but also curated meats and made a bunch of cute handicrafts. Besides once playing Santa Claus in Sao Paulo, in which he would entice the kids with a lama he would bring with him, he also used to sell solid quantities of cheese from this valley.
Now, his son had taken over much of that business, selling about 1000 kilos per month.

When we left, on the deserted track in and out of town, we didn’t hit an invisible Stephen King wall blocking us from leaving. We did stop, along the way, in the also lovely town of Itanhandu, where we bought even more cheese at a cheese factory, including some excellent mascarpone.

The way you make me feel

I happily let myself be roped in to participating in some experimental psychogeographic research, run by a student at the University of Bristol, working on his master’s thesis.

The project’s aim was to get individuals to carry out a dérive, a walk, through urban space, with particular attention to the atmospheres of space. This, while using creative map making as a way to record the subjective experience of moving through the urban environment.

First, participants were to create their own map. Then, participants were given the map created by another participant, to use as a basis for navigation.

Map making at Potato Square

Using Apple’s Shortcuts application, I created a script that downsized photos I took to a 4×4 pixel image, which was then pasted on a map, in the place the photo was taken.

I walked around in the area around Largo da Batata (Potato Square) in Sao Paulo, in-between tropical rain storms, trying to figure out what  the use was of shooting a series of images of 16 pixels.
At some point, I realised that I was being led by trying to find objects to take photos of, where the resulting 4×4 version was very similar to the high resolution original image.

For the end result, the map that was to be handed over to another participant, I mapped the shots I took, but then took out the actual map, the result below.

The sequential grid at the top of this post shows that, towards the end, my images were becoming more colourful, a direct consequence of trying to find objects, or surfaces, which, when resized to a 4×4 grid, would result in a similar feeling.

Somewhat annoyingly, for display, browsers, and image manipulation software, interpolate the image’s native resolution. Normally, this would result in better looking photos. But, when starting with an image of only 16 pixels, this results in blurry, moody, shots.

This ain’t quite Sheffield

For the second part, I was given a map made by another participant, for me to navigate with. The other participant had created a custom map in Google Maps, recording a meander through Sheffield.

Using the map of one place to navigate another, is a bit of a Situationist trope, after Debord brought this first up in his Introduction to a Critique on Urban Geography. I am not totally on board with the term ‘navigation’ in this context, as it implies, to me, requiring a direct connection between the map and the physical world, which doesn’t exist when you transpose the map of one place, to another. However, this disconnected map can function as a tool for moving through space, if not in the way that a map normally, or typically, is used.

In fact, when managing Kompl, we created exactly such a provision, where the map of one city could be used to explore another. But here, the virtual map was provided for the user to try and get themselves, in physical space, to certain locations on the virtual map, when overlaid on the real world, having to move through the real world to get to these virtual destinations.
That is, we made it into a game.

My counterpart’s record of their experience of Sheffield was very factual; a route overlaid on Google Maps, with a series of markers, identifying particular places with one or more images, and a little narrative.

How to take this data and use it to navigate Sao Paulo?

Having some experience with Photomarathons, I used the little narratives for each pinned location to inspire me in taking a, somewhat connected, photo. The result below.

The Great Giana Sisters, mapped!

John Demjanjuk is on trial in Israel for Nazi-era war crimes, the Herald of Free Enterprise capsizes in Zeebrugge, The Simpsons premiere on The Tracey Ullman Show, Mathias Rust lands a small plane on Red Square, Ronald Reagan challenges Mikhail Gorbachev to Tear down this wall!, war criminal Klaus Barbie is sentenced to life, Fiji becomes a republic, a pirate dressed like Max Headroom interrupts the broadcast of two Chicago television stations, and Time Warp Productions produces The Great Giana Sisters, quite possibly the greatest ever platform game created for the Commodore64.

The year is 1987. And, I’m playing video games.

Fast forward to 2020.

On the 29th of September, the Chronotopic Cartographies project and The British Library organise MAPPING SPACE | MAPPING TIME | MAPPING TEXTS, an online conference on the digital visualisation of space and time for fictional works that have no real-world correspondence.

I was intrigued, signed up, but failed to attend the sessions, in part due to the somewhat challenged required use of Microsoft Teams and, and in part due to the keynotes arousing my curiosity, perhaps, but not enough of my interest.

But, going over the conference’s poster exhibition, COVID-19 conveniently responsible for making the collection available online, I thought several of the submissions, essentially mapping fictional, but also real, worlds, featured in a range of fictional works, were quite interesting, marvelling at what pleasure it must be to have the funding available to make sometimes almost pointless maps of perhaps obscure fictional work.

One of these posters discusses the effect of the fog gate randomiser mod on game space (yes), in a game called Dark Souls, which, released in 2011, is from after my gaming days.

Going over this poster triggered a distant memory. A lifetime ago, I mapped the complete Giana Sisters world, all 33 levels, and sent the result off to the popular British gaming magazine ZZAP!64.
ZZAP! published the guide, making me proud, and sending me a bunch of video games, including the popular title Hawkeye, by the Dutch collective Boys Without Brains.

A short trip down memory lane allowed me to discover that ZZAP!64 issues are available online, fully digitised, via the Internet Archive. And, yes, issue 42 has my full walkthrough, a complete mapping of the video game The Great Giana Sisters for the Commodore64.

I had almost forgotten that my interest in creating digital topologies has a long history.

Strategies for subverting the tyranny of the corporate map

I submitted a version of the below for a session at CryptoRave, which, due to COVID, has been, at best, postponed to the second half of 2020. I referenced the concept in online panel, Being Social, which I was part of, and which is hosted by Deveron Projects. The text was also submitted to Streetnotes, a biannual peer-reviewed journal for the interdisciplinary study of the city, its lifeways and social relations.
A summarised version of this was presented at the Locative Media Summer School.
In June 2021, an extended interview on the same topic was published in Streetnotes volume 27.

Particularly since the introduction of smart phones, we have come to rely on ever fewer, ever more unified, tools to guide us, both in familiar and new environments. We have been handing over agency to tools that tell us what to see, what to do, and where to go.

This document discusses a philosophical background for, as well as tools to, subverting this external control, putting some agency for finding our way back in the hands of the individual, you.


Remember the last time you were in a city you’re not overly familiar with? Did you use a mobile app to tell you where to go? Where to eat? What to see?

Chances are that if two individuals are roughly in the same place, but at different times, and ask the same app roughly the same question, the result will be exactly the same; you’re in Paris, looking for a Thai restaurant? Whether you or I ask Google, we’ll get pretty much served the same list. Worse, because the number of unique content providers is very limited, it doesn’t even matter that much which app you use, as many source their information from a very small list of providers.

What then happens? Both of us will probably pick the ‘best’ Thai restaurant from the list, the first, and end up in exactly the same place, following exactly the same route to get there. 

With a world of information in our pockets, the variety of what is offered to us and what we seek out is actually getting smaller.

The result of this ‘winner takes all’ framework, where the most popular destinations only get more popular, eventually resulting in over-tourism, is the engendering of an attitude where visitors build up a longing desire for a unique, individualistic, experience, being denied this by the very tools they use to look for this unique experience, because the nature of the tools we accept as being at our disposal, can not, by design, provide that unique experience; their creators need, their investors demand, to provide a blanket solution with the widest reach, optimising financial turnover.

‘Personalisation’ of the results to our queries attempt to go some way towards providing us individualised responses. However, compartmentalisation of personal data, limited classification of available results, and an undefined match between what we like, why we like it, and what we experience, means that personalisation in travel offers very limited venues for optimisation. Imagine; you might like the specific way a particular dish at that Thai restaurant near your home is prepared. What data would need to be captured for an automated service to point you to a restaurant in an alien city where that particular dish is prepared in a similar way? Particularly if, perhaps, the restaurant itself is not well-rated, out of the way, or not even Thai?

Of course, this information could be captured, but, requiring rich and up-to-date user input, simply isn’t captured and is less likely to ever be captured. Though, with the potential advent of embedded technologies automatically recording ranges of personalised experiences, this could indeed change.

The commercialisation of society

Back in the 1950s, a bunch of mostly French leftist intellectuals, calling themselves The Situationist International, or Situationists, realised how the public space was being increasingly commercialised. 

After the Second World War, with the increasing cultural influence of the United States in Europe, many of the big Western European cities were taking cues from the US in how to model the publicly accessible spheres of their cities. 

While moving through public space, inhabitants were, more and more, actively directed in how to interact with the environment; go here, look there, buy this, etc. 

The Situationists were ahead of their time in their critique of capitalist society; They rejected the idea that capitalism’s apparent successes, like technological advancement, increased income, even increased leisure, could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of everyday life that it simultaneously facilitated.

The Situationists recognised society being in the service of the concept of the Spectacle, the reign of the market, as well as the increased tendency towards the expression and mediation of social relations through objects, as opposed to individual expression through directly lived experiences, or the first-hand fulfilment of authentic desires.

In fact, this late-stage capitalism is not organised around the creation of luxury, happiness, or freedom, but, for the system, production, and for the vast majority of its inhabitants, survival.

Creating counter narratives

As a response to the commercialisation of society, the Situationists sought to counter the Spectacle though the construction of situations, moments of life deliberately created for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life, even adventure.

Specifically, the Situationists came up with the concept of psychogeography, roughly the way a place makes you feel, and the dérive, the French word for ‘drift’, where the participant lets herself be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.

To revolt against the commercialisation of public space, and to counter the corporate influence on our lived experience, we need methods that put the locus of the decision-making process back in our own hands, as opposed to us being lead by algorithms that remove our experience and impressions from the environment we inhabit.

Then, by taking control of our own experience, we actualise ‘place’ as something that is dynamic, its meaning depending on the individual and her experience, not as a static notion that is defined by external actors we have no control over. 

Marxist Geographer Doreen Massey calls this ‘sense of place’, where the meaning of a ‘place’ is unique to the individual.

As an aside, though the ideas of the Situationists are often used in the context of exploration and travel, they were designed as frameworks for subversion, and other areas also benefit. In the early 2000s, Precarias a la Deriva, and Grup de Lesbianes Feministes, both in Spain, used psychogeographic ideas to investigate the role of unpaid female labour, and, more generally, of the sexualization of space, moving away from the traditionally more male-dominated theory.

Practical tools

Aware of the apparent contradiction, we can use digital tools, smartphones, to circumvent the tyranny of the corporate map, though digital tools are not a requirement.

The dérive 

The idea of the dérive, conceptualised in the 1950s by Guy Debord, the most prominent member of the Situationist International, at its core is about participants letting themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Best done in small groups, these would, Debord argued, lead to the creation of what he called ‘situations’.

Formalising this idea has centred around the creation of series of loosely directive ‘task cards’, nudging participants in particular modes of behaviour.

The mobile app Dérive app is a popular implementation of this, presenting the user with task cards that have a loose connection with the locale of the participant, like “Find shade”, “Follow a dog walker”, “Ask someone for their favourite building”, “Walk as fast as you can until you detect a public restroom”, etc.

Guerrilla tourism

Back in 1990 Joel Henry founded LaTourEx, LAboratoire de TOURisme EXpérimental (Laboratory of Experimental Travel) in Strasbourg. Acknowledging connections to the Situationists, Fluxus and other experimental groupings, he coined the concept of experimental travel, with ideas like taking a (physical) map of a city and to ‘conquer K2’, K2 being, of course, one of the most difficult mountains to climb, but also a particular square on the map.

Lonely Planet co-opted the concept of experimental travel in their 2005 book The Lonely Planet guide to Experimental Travel, followed by the 2018 Everyday Adventures.
Curiously, both feel, for their heavy curation and hand-holding, more like the antithesis of experimental travel, but can work well for inspiration and exploration.

Phil Smith (‘Crab Man’) has done something similar in his books on Counter Tourism, though, there, limiting himself to British Heritage sites. As part of his work with Wrights & Sites, and their series of ‘Misguides’, he also co-wrote a series of texts with instructions to make familiar places unfamiliar and to inspire the reader to subvert the city through walking.

Jason D. Luger, in his article “The Living vs. the dead in Singapore: contesting the authoritarian tourist city” (in Protest and Resistance in the Tourist City) goes for a more generally used term, describing guerrilla tourism as “going off the pathway”, constructing alternative narratives through the act of transgressing boundaries and walking, contesting and reshaping the hegemony of consumption-led urban development. 

As Luger talks about Singapore, ‘his’ city is also an authoritarian city, but, in many ways, perhaps every modern western city has become authoritarian, meaning the acts of guerrilla tourism he encountered in Singapore are increasingly appropriate in every city.

More recently, a German collective, Happy Tourists, consisting of Christian Haid, Soazic Guezennec and Lukas Staudinger, tries to formalise guerrilla tours in Berlin, though they seem to hold the middle between being a ‘serious’ outfit and an art installation. Nevertheless, they state their mission is “to bring serendipity, chaos and disorder into tourism to trigger critical thinking and power shifts into the tourism industry”.

Travel like a reporter

Nikhil Sonnad at Quartz, suggested last year, that in order to get the most out of your next trip, to travel like a reporter, which he explains as deeply focusing on one topic or theme; For your destination, pick a ‘lens’, subject or topic, and focus on that topic as if you’re obsessive-compulsive, as if you’re required to write a thesis on the topic once you’ve returned from your destination.

Because you will be seeing the things you want to see, not the things everyone “must see”, this will likely mean that there will be fewer tourists at your chosen destinations, while you probably also will be visiting places you otherwise would not have visited yourself.

Even interests that might appear main stream, like World Heritage Sites, become quite obscure in the ‘long tail’, with currently a total of 1121 of them.

Another term that’s sometimes used for this type of discovery is slow travel, where a traveller seeks to immerse themselves in a place they visit, taking their time to learn about the location, along with cultures and offbeat experiences on offer, instead of simply checking-off another place from their bucket list.

Add friction

The appeal of the travel-oriented tools many of us are inclined to use, Google Maps, Foursquare, Tripadvisor, Yelp!, etc., is that they make our lives easy. They take away friction, but as a consequence give its users a remarkably similar experience. Not only do we get presented with the same Thai restaurant in Paris, we also get told to go there by the same route.

Part of the joy is in the journey. Perhaps, then, don’t take that Uber, take public transport. Don’t fly, go overland. Don’t pull out that map all the time, go by what feels right and take your time, more closely observing your surroundings as you move forward, engendering a sense of discovery.

A few years ago, Kompl tried to achieve this sense of discovery by taking away information, instead of providing as much as possible. The app showed you what was around you, but required you to find individual places yourself. In addition, it would not disclose the best, say, Thai restaurant, but just a few good enough ones.
An additional quirk was that Kompl allowed you to explore one city through the physical, geographical, data of another.

Kompl is no longer active, but a more mainstream app like provides a compass-only view that can achieve a similar result, as it requires you to decide what route to take, as opposed to relying on algorithmic software, optimising your route.


We’re not much used to listening to our surroundings. The growing field of ‘sound walking’ changes this, nudging you to use more of your senses to give meaning to the environment you find yourself in.

A yearly ‘sound walking’ festival, Sound Walk September, brings this experience to a broader audience and apps like Echoes, Soundtrails, and Locosonic provide access to a broad range of sound walks throughout the world.

What links these strategies?

What connects all these ‘tools’? 

They allow the user to take a step back, engendering mindfulness, nudging the user to rely more on their own capacities as opposed to handing over agency and trusting technology. They bring the user more into the moment, by requiring the user to take responsibility, while making her more aware.

Being more aware of the possibilities at your disposal as you move through public space and making more active decisions, means taking back agency over your own actions. 

You don’t of course need the particular tools described above but, more importantly, you really don’t need the tyranny of the corporate map.

Pandemia de amor

After some five years of being in a stable union, Natalia and I are getting married on May 29. The ceremony is set for 10am BRT (Sao Paulo time). COVID-19 is preventing us from having anyone at the wedding except the two witnesses, and we even had to change the date at the last minute, because of COVID, so a party will follow in due course. Probably, one day, travel restrictions will be lifted.

But, if you so desire, you can follow live broadcasts, throughout the day, of the ceremony, the cutting of a cake, virtual toasts, and more, on my Twitter feed.

We will see you online?

Life is travel, the case for the patron saint of walkers

The Vandals are at the gates. Augustine is deadly ill, spending his final days in prayer and repentance. Having coined the phrase “Solvitur ambulando”, “it is solved by walking”, perhaps his ambulatory restlessness at the end of his life indirectly saved the city, as the Vandals initially retreated. But Augustine of Hippo, modern-day Annaba in northern Algeria, did then not walk enough, as shortly after, the Vandals returned and burned the city to the ground. Though not all of it, as Augustine’s cathedral and library were left untouched.
The year was 430AD, and today, in Annaba’s Saint Augustin Basilica, you can visit some of his remains, where a portion of the man’s right arm has been preserved within a glass tube, itself inserted into the arm of a life-size marble statue of the saint.

Augustine, born in Roman North Africa in 354AD, in what is now Souk Ahras, and speaking Latin at home, is considered to have been Berber and, through his writings, we know that he took his African heritage as a point of pride.
Augustine’s mom was a devout christian, but his father was a ‘pagan’, who’s ancestors likely received Roman citizenship through the edict of Caracalla in 212AD. His father honoured the Punic gods, likely giving Augustine also a Phoenician extraction.

Augustine’s first journey took him to school at Madaurus, some 30km from his hometown. Destined for a life of learning, at 17, he continued his education in rhetoric in Carthage, in modern day Tunisia.

He also became Manichaean, a reasonably fresh religion, barely 100 years old, and of Persian extraction. But, he was not a devout follower.
Then, in 384, Augustine almost by accident, stumbled into the most desired academic position in the Roman Empire; that of rhetoric professor at the imperial court in Milan. It was here, when Roman emperor Theodosius I issued a decree to kill all Manichaean monks, that Augustine developed a close relationship with the archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, and rolled into christianity.

Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet

In Carthage, Augustine fell in with a hedonistic bunch of young men, taking pride in their sexual exploits. There, he ended up with a (female) lover for 15 years, with which he eventually had a son. He had brought her to Milan, but his mom had also joined him, and eventually arranged a ‘respectable’ marriage, to a 10-year old heiress. Legal age was 12 at the time, meaning Augustine had to wait another two years, during which he took up another lover, and during which he left us his famous prayer Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet
But, he received it, as before the marriage was supposed to happen, he decided to live a life of celibacy. At 31, in late August 386, Augustine converted to Christianity.

Then, things moved fast. Augustine was baptised in 387, moved back to Africa in 388, was ordained a priest in 391 and became coadjutor bishop (like a vice-bishop) of Hippo Regius in 395, and full bishop within five years of that, until his death in 430, leaving behind one of the most comprehensive bodies of work on Christian and philosophical thought.

A saint with a long reach

Augustine was canonised (by popular acclaim, as, at the time, papal canonisation did not yet exist), and recognised as one of the original four ‘Doctors’ of the church, essentially a very influential thinker, in 1298, and then became the patron saint of brewers, printers and theologians, and is considered one of the few most influential individuals in Christian thought, second perhaps only to Saint Paul, ‘the apostle’ (who, incidentally, was not one of the ‘original’ 12 apostles).

Besides rationally tackling a wide range of theological questions, Augustine also argued strongly against slavery, as, he stated, man should not have ‘dominion’ over man, but only over beasts.

He also recognised the dangers of only having some education, the most difficult student being the one with an inferior education who believes he understands something when he does not.

Augustine’s work has influenced modern day thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and Ludwig Wittgenstein, with the previous pope, Benedict XVI, stating that Augustine was one of the most important influences on his own thinking, calling Augustine a “traveling companion in my life and ministry“.
Remarkable, in that the real tangible writings of someone who lived 1600 years ago influence great minds of our own age.

To be on the road, is to be at home

Augustine was a prolific writer, and dealt with a broad range of subjects, many, but not all of religious nature. Perhaps due to his origins at the periphery of the empire, his ethnic heritage, his pagan connection, and his close presence to the center of power, he combined his reasoning into a framework that allowed him to question, interrogate, himself, his surroundings, as well as his faith.
And, he thrived through the acceptance of the journey as an integral part of his existence.

The Egyptian-Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, who after his death in 1933 became recognised as among the most important figures in Greek as well as Western poetry, describes in his superb poem Ithaca the journey of Odysseus to his home island. Beautifully, Cavafy describes how the joy is in the journey; “Hope that your journey is a long one”.
Augustine was of similar mind. Stating that “In via, in patria”, which is often translated as “The homeland is the journey”, though I prefer a more colloquial “To be on the road, is to be at home”. The necessity of travel, and the fact that agency for this resides with the individual, not with happenstance, Augustine explained with “God provides the wind, Man must raise the sail.”.

Similarly, attributed to Augustine is the phrase “Solvitur ambulando”, meaning “It is solved by walking”. A fitting statement for a lover of the journey, even though this statement is ‘merely’ an attribution. And, to underscore the possibility of this particular attribution being apocryphal, Diogenes of Sinope, who predated Augustine by some 800 years(!), is said to have replied to Zeno’s paradoxes on the unreality of motion, by standing up and walking away. Not exactly solving something by walking, but definitely ignoring the problem at hand by walking away. But, whether the statement originated with Augustine or not, Augustine recognised and acknowledged the joy, and importance, of travel, and how walking, as an act of and in itself, can drive towards resolution.

Reinforcing the necessity of movement, with travel as a natural state, Augustine also stated that “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”. He brought the point home, emphasising that movement is pointless without self-discovery, with the following piece:

People travel to wonder
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the seas,
at the long course of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and yet they pass by themselves
without wondering.

More recently, as with Augustine’s more philosophical work in respect to modern thinkers, his vision of walking as methodology has found resonance with modern authors and travel writers. Lewis Carroll brings up the phrase Solvitur ambulando in one of his books; it appears in Gödel, Escher, Bach ;in work by Henry David Thoreau, Bruce Chatwin, and Paul Theroux.

As an aside, “Solvitur ambulando” also was the motto of the British Royal Air Forces Escaping Society, a charitable organization, formed to support those who put their lives at risk to assist and save members of the Royal Air Forces who were attempting to escape capture behind enemy lines during World War II. They, the members of the RAF trying to escape, very literally tried to solve their problem, of not being captured, by walking.

Therefore, walking artists, in their newly emerging field, find themselves in good company. Walking artists know that the joy is in the journey, that being on the road is being at home, and that problems are solved by walking.
In that sense, Augustine of Hippo very much is the spiritual predecessor to today’s walking artists, as well as the natural figurehead of walkers, the world over.

Augustine was said to have an inquisitive mind, evidenced by his success in reasoning and rhetorics, and his long-lasting philosophical influence on matters of the Christian church and beyond.
As a bishop, Augustine traveled to, and attended, church councils in the North African region of the Roman Empire some 40 to 50 times. From Hippo, he made the nine-day journey to Carthage, home of the metropolitan catholic see, meeting other bishops of the region, some thirty times.

Perhaps surprisingly, athletes have two patron saints; a Saint Christopher, more likely ‘only’ a legend, but who also is the patron saint of travellers; Saint Sebastian, also patron saint of soldiers, of whom also no contemporary accounts exist.

Walkers, as yet, do not have a patron saint.

Augustine of Hippo is a towering historical figure, of whom a large body of work survives, who has influenced the Christian church more than almost anyone, and realised the importance of the journey as a process for development and understanding of the self, and found travel an essential component of his ability to do the work he had mastered over the course of a lifetime.

It is time walkers recognise their patron saint. That patron saint is Augustine of Hippo.

The top 10 places to visit in Brazil


Reading the news, I noticed a headline urging you to not read yet another top 10 list, but to write your own. The article was really about creating your own list of top songs for the year, but why stop there?

So, here’s my list of top 10 places to visit in Brazil. Just in time for the next decade. With having lived just over half the current one in Brazil, I’m not in the worst position to share my experience.
In case it needs to be said, I’m only including places I’ve actually visited.

10. Paraty

I'm going in

Brazil has an ambiguous connection to its colonial past. Late in abolishing slavery, but unilaterally declaring independence early on, on December 7, 1822, Rio, at that time, had already been the capital of Portugal for some 15 years, after the royal family fled from Portugal to Brazil, with Napoleon invading the home country.

Lots of valuable resources had been flowing out of Brazil for centuries, major wealth produced by gold, coffee, sugar cane and rubber, much of it produced through the exploitation of slaves, Rio also being the largest slave port in the Americas.

Gold was mined in the interior, mostly in what is now the state of Minas Gerais, and then transported to the coast, predominantly to Paraty. After the veins of gold dried up, Paraty lost its importance and development stalled. Hence, while Paraty benefited significantly from the wealth flowing through it, it also almost has been caught in a time warp, becoming what is now a lovely, reasonably well maintained, colonial town.

There are plenty alternatives to Paraty around Brazil, In Minas Gerais, Ouro Preto is one example. In the north, Olinda just north of Recife is awash in (Dutch) colonial history, but there are many more, including, of course, Rio de Janeiro.

9. Gay Pride in Sao Paulo


Not quite unlike Carnaval, Sao Paulo’s Gay Pride is the largest in the world, clocking in between 3 and 5 million in attendance, coming from humble beginnings, when in 1997 a mere 2000 attended.

It’s probably the biggest single street party you could ever attend.

8. Sugerloaf mountain

Suger loaf mountain

What’s a sugarloaf, really? Well, it was a cone of refined sugar, and the typical form in which sugar was sold until the late 19th century, where individual sections were cut off, using a particular type of scissors.
The mountain in Rio, rising up just under 400 meter from the water level, obviously resembles a sugarloaf.

The Dutch and British colonial powers prevented their colonies from locally refining sugar, making the unfinished product part of the triangular slave trade while enforcing dependency of the colonies on the home countries, though Brazil and Portugal, less so managing their own slave trade, were not as restrictive.

In Rio, Sugerloaf mountain is really two mountains; a smaller first one and a larger second one. Both provide stunning views of the city and Guanabara Bay, the bay which was first encountered by Portuguese explorers on January 1, 1502. The general consensus is that these guys mistook the bay for a river, hence calling it Rio de Janeiro (‘rio’ being the Portuguese for ‘river’), but, some historians argue that the bay was actually first called ‘Ria de Janeiro’, translating to “January’s lagoon”, with the confusion setting in later.

The first of the two mountains can be reached by a footpath, though that’s regularly sealed off, due to the danger of muggings. The second, main, mountain, can only be reached by cable car.

7. Brasilia


Brazil has moved capitals a number of times, eventually settling on Brasilia, built in the empty interior of the country from 1956 onwards, and becoming the capital in 1960, robbing Rio just short of its 200th anniversary as the nation’s capital.

The name most associated with the design of the city is Oscar Niemeyer, easily the most important Brazilian architect to have lived (and for a long time, the man died in 2012, just short of his 105th birthday), and a key figure in the development of modern architecture.
Niemeyer’s signature style was the use of curved concrete structures, which he pioneered the use of, constructing futuristic, or retro-futuristic, objects that still fascinate today.

Niemeyer’s architecture can be found around the country. Sao Paulo has the Memorial de America Latina, to name but one, but Brasilia is like a huge open air museum, built in a grid-plan to resemble a bird or a plane.

But, Niemeyer, Burle Marx, Lucio Costa, and Joaquim Cardozo didn’t get everything right; the city was built when cars were replacing other forms of transport, and the city was not designed for walking and is inconvenient to navigate with public transport.

6. Foz de Iguacu

Iguazu Falls

Shared between Brazil and Argentina, and within a (long) stone’s throw from Paraguay, these falls are stunning. It’s a bit of a trek to get to the tri-border area, but you should visit both sides.

Until 1860, the area was disputed between Brazil and Paraguay. But, when Paraguay lost the Paraguayan War, in which that country, according to some estimates, lost the majority of its population(!) the area came under Brazilian control. It took another few decades, notably until the Brazilian pioneering pilot Santos-Dumont visited in 1916, after which the Iguaçu national park, home of the falls, was created.

Somewhat strangely, the area is also associated with muslim fundamentalism and religion in general, the town of Foz de Iguacu being home to a wide range of religious dominations.

5. Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

You can not visit Brazil and not visit Rio. The city has just too much to offer. Sugarloaf perhaps provides stunning views, the platform around the Christ tops that.

The statue took nine years to build, from 1922 to 1931, at what seems to be a reasonable 250.000USD, or about 3.5 million in today’s money. At the opening, the statue’s floodlights were to be lit remotely, from, of all places, Rome, by shortwave radio. But, bad weather prevented this from happening and someone in Rio just ended up flipping the switch.

The typical route to get yourself to the top is by funicular, tram, but you can also drive up and save yourself some money, even if that means paying unreasonable amounts for parking.

4. Paranapiacaba

The bridge

This little town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo is where the Brits set up their headquarters for the railway lines they managed in and around Sao Paulo. The city was built like a panopticon, with the lead-engineer’s house, in the center of the town and raised on a hill, in the line of sight of all other houses in the settlement, allowing the lead-engineer to see everyone, and everyone never knowing if, at any time, the lead-engineer was keeping an eye on them.

To make the British engineers feel more at home, the train station sports a scaled model of London’s Big Ben and the town might have been the place where, for the very first time, soccer was played on Brazilian soil, though on a pitch slightly smaller than official rules required.

The town’s name is Tupi, an indigenous Indian language, for “The place from where you can see the sea”. The town is at the foot of a mountain range. If you climb the mountain range, you can indeed see the sea.
Hiking in the area, alone, is generally not advised, sadly. You can get a guide to follow you around, though.

A tourist train runs between the center of Sao Paulo and Paranapiacaba on weekends. You can also just take an urban railway line and then a bus. The town is trying hard to put itself on the tourist map, with, amongst many other things, a yearly witches and magicians festival.

3. Fordlandia

Still standing

In the middle of the Amazon, Henry Ford pictured the kind of utopian society he couldn’t quite establish back home in the US, even though there, too, he tried very hard. But, never having visited and never visiting, his ideals and plans didn’t quite gel with the local climate and culture, let alone the crashing prices of rubber, on which the creation of this company town was based.

Nearby (on a Brazilian scale), the Amazonian capital of Manaus was already suffering the consequences of the end of the rubber boom, and though there was a bit of an uptick during the Second World War, when rubber from East Asia was inaccessible to the allied forces, the discovery of artificial rubber around the same time, saw the price of rubber crash, and the fate of Fordlandia sealed.

More a sign of the times, Ford’s utopian vision was typical for many company towns established around the turn of the previous century, as well as the prevailing idea that society can be shaped in our image. The Amazon, even today, has plenty of company towns, mostly home to companies robbing the Amazon of its resources and completely sealed off to outsiders, but, all over Brazil, remnants of century-old idealism remains.

Just close to Sao Paulo, you can visit a settlement of immigrants from the American South, arriving after the civil war, a Dutch settlement and a former Finnish utopia.

2. The slow boat from Manaus to Belem

Enjoying the on-board showers

The size and scope of the Amazon river, region and basin defies comprehension. It’s possible to start your Amazonian journey all the way in Peru, though that will mean a rocky journey until Manaus, from where passenger services run multiple times each week, all the way to the coast at Belem. You can break the journey in Santarem, from where you can visit beaches resembling those in the Caribbean, in the town of Alter do Chao, as well as the dilapidated utopia that’s Fordlandia.

Taking the boat, you could book one of the few cabins, but the best experience is getting yourself a hammock, hanging it up on one of the decks, like everyone else, and just watching the world go by, for days.

1. Carnival at the Sambadromo


Brazil is synonymous with carnival. You can celebrate anywhere in Brazil (as well as in many places outside of Brazil), and have a superb time. But… Rio does take the cake. Get yourself to one of the many blocos, street parties, in the run up to carnival, the kick off typically being the new year, and then get yourself a ticket for the official carnival parade in the Sambadromo, essentially a street, built like a stadium, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, specifically to observe the samba schools competing to provide the year’s best carnival parade.

For just under a full week, starting every day in the early evening and continuing until the morning light, samba schools take turns to show off their elaborate parades, convincing judges and the public that their narrative, music, costumes and floats are deserving of the year’s top spot.

When getting tickets, seats on the stands, from where you have a great view of the parades, are popular, but the better tickets are below, on the edge of the parade, where you’re so close to the participants that you can literally touch them.

What!? That’s it?! No beaches!?

Yeah, I’m not enough of a beach-lover to include beaches in this top ten, but there are some great beaches in Brazil. There’s a fantastic beach in Boa Vista, in the Amazon, as well as in Alter de Chao, the latter often positively compared to the white beaches of the Caribbean.

There are more lovely beaches on Brazil’s coast than you can shake a stick at. Close to Salvador, there’s Morro de Sao Paulo, there’s all the city beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the beaches off the Sao Paulo coast at Santos, Itanhaem and Peruibe, and many more.

Of UFOs and a flying monk

Sea shells on the sea shore
Downtown Peruibe
A UFO in Peruibe
Off to sea
Burrowing owl
Pure joy

We spent Christmas in Peruibe, a good two hour drive from Sao Paulo, and on the coast.
Brazlians tend to stay home for Christmas Day, meaning that the town was pleasantly quiet on our first day and most of our second, when 1.2 million people left Sao Paulo to find relaxation elsewhere, many heading to the coast.

Many, if not most, of those leaving Sao Paulo head to the coastal town of Santos. On a quiet day, only an hour away, on a busy day, as you have to cross a mountain range separating Sao Paulo from the coast, with only a few access roads available, perhaps four hours away.

Peruibe is further south from Santos, but also accessible through a much quieter road which goes around the mountain range between Santos and Sao Paulo.
On the downside, Peruibe is pretty much only a coastal strip catering to visitors from the interior, whereas Santos also is the largest port in Brazil and a thriving city.

A few hundred years ago, Peruibe did make a promising start, in a way. The Portuguese very early on enslaved the local Indians, while a Portuguese priest fought against this enslavement. His church, now known as the ruins of Abarebebe, though originally the Church of Saint John the Baptist, can still be visited, though not too much remains.
The Indians called the priest Abarebebe, meaning the priest who flies, as he was often seen walking on the beach between Peruibe and the nearby settlement of Itanhaem, while, with his nearly two meters and his feet hidden by his habit, he appeared to be flying, or perhaps floating, across the sand.
The church is sometimes referred to as the first church built in Brazil, but this seems unlikely, as the Portuguese first settled in the northeast of the country, and even our local guide at the ruins questioned the likelihood of this.

Besides the towns vast beaches, Peruibe also has a more modern draw, as the area sees regular UFO sightings, promoted via shitty YouTube videos, and has a yearly UFO conference, though their website has been offline for long enough to no longer show up in search results. Our guide claimed that, as little as a few weeks ago, a bunch of large metal orbs were seen rushing across the skies.
Color me skeptical.

WSA 2020

Like last year, I’m one of the online jurors for this year’s World Summit Awards, in the Culture & Tourism category.

Two types of submissions stood out for their originality. The first is the offering of tours for which ‘sustainability’ is a core feature, typically through somehow accredited local service providers. The other is offering high-quality and hyper-local short tours of specific destinations.

The former is interesting as a general trend, though I’m not convinced of its ultimate sustainable success, as providing tours like this requires more effort and more cost, making them much less competitive in the market, even if there is a core group of tourists and travellers that could be interested in more environmentally and socially sustainable travel options.

The second is interesting due to my personal interests and history. Two years ago, when we won with The Museum of Yesterday, with which we pioneered the idea of mixing location-based gaming with history, journalism and tourism. In 2019, the WSA saw a few submissions somewhat similar to this, but now the quality of those offering similar services has increases and broadened. Though, still, the same problem persists, as replicability is very limited, because creating individual offerings need to be hand-crafted from start to finish.